I Need to Bite Something
I was up all night trying to edit yesterday's Daily Growler post; what a mess. That's the same guy who wrote the Texas piece that got a lot attention a few moons back [check the archives for "Dust to Dust"]; but just trying to write straight out like an essayist ain't his forte. Editing is not my forte but I was forced into editing by poverty; young poverty; $400 in my pocket and a wife on my arm.
I have a photographic remembrance of the first time this flatlander kid ever saw Manhattan Island. I was in my brother-in-law's big nice Caddy, heading to the Lincoln Tunnel from his bungalow in Morris Plains, New Jersey, where my wife and I had gone after our plane from Chicago landed at Newark Airport after dark the evening before. The Boeing 747 jumbo-job we came in on had its cabins light on full glare after we hit a bad storm over the Alleghenies just south of Pittsburgh and they kept the lights on to comfort us packed-in-like-sardines coach-class passengers. From that point on, that big-ass jet ice-skated over a slim sheet of clouds on into Newark. As we landed, drifting in over the northern New Jersey hills and woods, my eager wife and I strained out our left-side window trying to see the big city skyline, but no could we do. We could see its billions of watts of light shimmering coquettishly from under that sheath of veiling clouds that hid the megacity's edificial forest. "Let there be a gorgeously lit-up skyline!" we pled with the gods of a clear sky, but all we got was the veiled spirit of this, to me, holy city of my dreams, staying dreamy since I couldn't see its corporeality.
The day was overcast and chilly as that Caddy was swooped along by the concrete swipes of pretzel twisted thruways, interchanges, off ramps, and approaches so flooded with traffic it was choking, literally, like when back in the flatlands you worked around filling stations where you breathed automobile smells all day, gasoline smells, tire smells, oil and grease smells, urine smells, crap smells, spoiled air smells, though soon the traffic was funnelled down to four lanes that climbed suddenly and we rose up to the top of the New Jersey bluffs that jut up high out of the Hudson River basin at Weehawken and as we then looped out into a single lane and began descending into the Lincoln Tunnel, BOOM! there in an opening in the rockwall of the tunnel approach IT WAS, Holy Mother of the Madhouse, yes, there the whole son of a bitchin' thing was unfolded before me. Just at that moment, the sun burned a hole right straight down out of that overcast and spotlighted the skyline of my holy city, HOLY F-ing New York City. I'd never seen a skyline like that, and I had lived in Mexico City, San Francisco, Dallas, and Chicago before coming to NYC. But never that awesome a panorama of buildings; a virtual field of buildings that waved like brick and stone grain from way up on my left to wash far on down to my right to end at what at that time were the two tallest buildings ever built, the World Trade Center twin towers, just finished, still under controversy, a bland clustering of rather "tacky" buildings forced on taxpayers by haughty, aristocratic, sleasebag, pompous, know-it-all Nelson Rockefeller as one of his many construction follies using state funds to play with as governor of the State of New York, one of the many huge monuments this smug grandson-of-an-old-asshole-bastard built to honor his Holiest of Holy Family names, including the very unnecessary and oddball-looking Empire Plaza up in ugly Albany, New York.
Holy shit, I thought, both excited and scared after that panorama was rolled up and the Caddy had entered the guts of the Lincoln Tunnel, how the hell am I going to survive in this city I'm fixing to become a make-it-or-break-it participant in, and I wanted to do my surviving smack-dab in the deepest bloodiest part of its heart, as high up as possible, with the ability to step myself right on up the ladders of Manhattan success, my sword and my pistol by my side, ah-ha, ah-ha? The only work I was qualified to get was SOCIAL WORK!!! [Scott Fitzgerald said using exclamation points was like laughing at your own jokes. "Sorry, Scott, but I think I'll add another couple'a exclams!] SOCIAL WORK!!!!!!!!!! I'm dyin' of laughter.
And that's why I became an editor.
I was a natural-born writer; besides my grandmother was a writer; my brother was a writer; and my dad had taught me grammar and my multiplication tables before I went to first grade [kindergarten was for the little rich bastards; f-em all; I didn't need no kindergarten]. Plus, my dad was a penmanship freak. He loved fountain pens; the bigger the better; the more expensive the better; the more gold on it the better. He used to could take his favorite pen, his 22-carat gold-pointed black-lacquered Schaeffer, in one hand, and his next favorite pen, a black and orange celluloid, gold-tipped Parker, in his other hand, and kissing them together in the middle of a piece of paper he could write his name backwards with his left hand and forwards with his right hand simultaneously. He could also sign his name upsidedown and whip it around and sign it rightsideup all in one very fancy motion. My dad forced me to write my name so perfectly before I learned to write that when I did begin to learn to write, I printed, and I got to where I could print faster than the other kids could script. I would print all of my papers all the way through high school, and the only thing I could script that wasn't scribble was my name and I could sign my name, just as my father taught me, "fancier and prouder than John Hancock's on the Bill of Rights, the best damn document our forefathers ever came up with, so help me Hannah."
And that's why I found editing easy.
I graduated college finally with a Masters of Arts in Sociological Theory. I had a B.A. in Sociology with my focus on Urban Sociology, especially the Urban Planning aspects of it. I carried Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre book, Wright's utopian city that had a huge farm in center city, around with me every where I went, and I thought like a futurist and not like a conservative. My first quest for a job in Urban Planning got me nowhere. I sent my transcript and introductory letter to cities all over the southwest and midwest from Houston up to Champagne-Urbana, Illinois, where my favorite teacher in college, an Urban Sociology genius, had gone to teach at the U. of Illinois. Nada. Not even a jot or a tittle of hope; only totally rejection. I skidded almost into a coma trying to get a job in city planning, futuristic invention, or as a social psychiatrist, which was my big dream. I went to an employment agency. The woman who looked like a crazed cat dressed as a human woman looked over my transcript then looked me up and down, went hmmmmmmmmm, and said she was sorry but she had nothing that would fit what I was looking for. As she was fixing to shoo my ass out the door, her phone rang and she began taking notes and speaking them out before writing them down: "OK. You need a receptionist? Uh-huh. College degree. OK? Chance to advance to caseworker. OK. College should be what education? Child psychology..." My ears perked up; I knew a little something about child psychology. "...Sociology...OK, let me see what I can do. What's the pay? $127 every two weeks; benefits; OK. Thanks." She slammed down the phone. "I'll take it," I said, so eagerly I was drooling. "What?" she said, her claws out and her eyes night-wide-open. "That job; I'll take it." "That's a receptionist job at the Blank Country Juvenile Home. You're qualified for a better position than this." "Nope. I'm serious; I want that job." "You got it," she said, and immediately called and set me up with an interview.
I got the job and thus began my career as a god-damn social worker. God, how I hate social work now. But I do respect and love social workers. I know them intimately, though I shunned ever calling myself a social worker even though that's what the hell I became after I started that job as a receptionist in the Blank [fill in the blank, these homes are all the same] Country Juvenile Home. After I became a caseworker at the juvenile home, I got married to a Baptist preacher's daughter and moved to New Orleans, where I went to work for the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court as a court intake worker. Why soon I was associating with some of the greatest dudes I'd ever met and soon I was going up to Baton Rouge and attending classes in Social Psychology aiming at becoming eventually a medical sociologist or at best a social psychiatrist, a guy that handles "sociopaths" and "passive aggressives" and autistic kids, Tourette's syndrome kids, stutterers, kids regular old psychiatrists have no time for nor interest in. I was suddenly working toward an MSW, for me, a joke degree, a Masters of Social Work, and a need to join the National Association of Social Workers and start a New World Order of social miracles. Oh hell I hated those years; I had over 300 cases my first year in New Orleans, everything from runaways, incorrigibles, to serious sociopathic psychopaths, on up to cold-blooded little bastard murderers. F that work. I couldn't wait to get out of it. I began drinking too much; leaving work early to go to my favorite restaurant in the Vieux Carre, Ruggiero's on Decatur just off Dumaine, and once there settled in at the bar order a dozen raw oysters from the Yugoslavian oyster shucker and a Dixie beer and then I ate oysters and drank beer until my hard-working, money-making wife would join me and we'd eat antipasto, spaghetti in green sauce, king crab legs served with a huge bowl of drawn butter spiced up with scallions and garlic, and tumblers of cold, cold draught Dixie, fuck all those needy bastards who were being hauled into kiddy court with no representation for their rights but me; the lives of babies up to full-fledged adolescents in my stupid hands--Jesus, I was absorbing these crazy kids's quirks and neuroses and even thef-ing psychotic voices they heard 24/7, and their wild, jungly headaches, after one kid told me he had headaches that "grow like vines around my forehead." Hoo-boy, I one day drunkenly confessed to myself, it was high time we motivated on damn out of heah, I did declare. If I hadn't'a left New Orleans, I would still be a social worker; one of my best buddies in New Orleans went on with it and is now living grandly in retirement out in California. But, I got a lucky break--and don't read this if you have a weak stomach--my parents were killed in an awful carwreck and I inherited a little bundle of money, bundle enough that I walked in one afternoon after I had a truly shitty day of work (a little asshole rich boy arsonist; a beautiful young Italian-octoroon mix who was fucking for money out at a junior high; and a cop's knucklehead half-wit son who spent most of our interview threatening to cut a hole in my throat and reach in and jerk out my heart while it's still beatin')-- and I QUIT.
That same week, I moved to Mexico City.
When I came to New York City, I gave up; the only credentials I had were in social work. I went downtown to the Manhattan juvenile court, called the Youth Council Bureau in those days. The day I went for the interview, it was in May, the temperature climbed to 97 and when I walked into the Youth Council Bureau offices, they had no air conditioning and everyone, all men that I could see, were in their shirtsleeves and one dude, I swear, had stripped down to his guinea tee shirt--he was hairy as hell and carried a piece in a holster that fit under his arm, just like I imagined what a mobster goombah type would look like. I was interviewed by the head of the department, a creepy little gnome of a man who looked like some Goliath had stepped on him like he was a beer can and had smashed down on him head first--he looked like a smashed beer can. And he started talking, not about me or my qualifications or the job itself, but about himself. He'd been in 'Nam, he said, and he'd seen it all; there wasn't nuthin' scared his ass or bothered him anymore. Suddenly he jumped up and waddled around his desk to face me. "You ever heard of 'fragging'? That's where a non-com shoots one of his own officers usually in the back, though the most hateful of the fraggers were the ones who went out in front of their charging officers and shot 'em head-on, as though the enemy had whacked 'em. Shit, you fragged to get out of duty, to have a little space of peace and gettin' high until the next officers came or they made you an officer, and boy was that hell if they made you an officer. You had to walk backwards from then on. You take a guy who's fragged a couple of officers and then they make him an officer, now that's shit, man, pure shit." His eyes were on fire and his nostrils were flaring; Jesus, I thought, this son of a bitch is a maniac. Just as I thought that, this crazy bastard said, "OK, what's your name, come with me and I'll take you to meet the guy you're gonna work with in Brooklyn." Whoa, Chief, whoa. "You mean I'm hired?" "Yeah, give me six days, no, make that six weeks and then call me and I'll tell you when to come to work. Hey, Art, you lazy motherfucker, you sorry bastard, heh-heh, I love this guy, Art, here's the greenhorn who's gonna be workin' with you out in Hell out there." I was saved when Mayor Lindsay sent word down it was so hot, all city offices were closing. The gnome and Art went their merry ways down the halls and left me standing there like a chicken without its head. What the hell was I supposed to do? All around me people were packing out of that office. Soon I was alone. I left. I never went back. I never called. Nope. Thus ended my career as a social worker.
That's why I became an editor.
I don't hate editing worse than social work, but after decades of being an editor, I truly hate editing now--F it. That's why I was up all night last night editing yesterday's post by the growlingoldTexian about his MOM, which, I've been told, was a well-written piece. Thanks to me, the god-damn editor. Selah.
for The Daily Growler
Note: this is the NOW the official edited version; edited, of course, by thegrowlingoldTexian.